Be the 80%

The 80/20 principle, also known as the Pareto principle, describes how 80% of the results from 20% of the causes. Originally it was used to illustrate that 80% of the the wealth in Italy was held by just 20% of the population. It can similarly be seen in a variety of situations, such as in retail where 20% of buyers typically account for 80% of sales.

But in fitness it’s skewed the other way, there is no magic 20% that will work better than the basic 80% done with intent and consistency.

Unfortunately, all too often people focus on the 20% of factors instead of mastering the basic 80% first. People want the magic beans that will get them the result they want with the minimal amount of effort, the magic 1 exercise that will somehow add 20kg to whatever lift they struggle with, the incredible new supplement that drops the last 5kgs of body fat or the new training gear that makes you move faster or jump higher.

The only magic beans that do any of the above #science

Instead of searching for the one secret to fast track your progress, why not make sure you are doing the basics right first? Make sure you are consistently doing the 80% stuff listed below before you think about looking for the last 20.


The 80%:

Eat mostly unprocessed foods. I don’t have to expand on this, do I?

Eat protein with every meal. Aiming for about 30g of protein per meal (more if you are bigger) to stimulate protein synthesis, ie. the growing/ repair of new muscle tissue

Drink mostly water and zero calorie drinks. You will be amazed at how many sneaky calories are in fruit juices, soft drinks, alcohol etc. Even those drinks marketed as “health drinks” can be very high calorie, I’ve seen some fruit smoothie options come in at around 700kcals!

Eat slowly. This helps you recognise when you are approaching full, since your stomach to brian signalling mechanisms, either the physical feeling of fullness or the chemical signalling to tell your brain to stop putting food in your face, take around 20mins to kick in. Eating fast will almost always send you straight past these signals and on to being way past full. This is only really useful for eating competitions, not fat loss.

Stop at 80% full, particularly for fat loss. See above.

Have your carbs mostly when you are going to use them. i.e. around training sessions for fuel and recovery. I know, carbs are fun and they make you feel good. But generally carbs should be kept for fuelling your training sessions or higher activity periods and limited at other times. This isn’t to say you should be low carb all the time, but as a rule, people tend to over eat carbs and limit fat and protein too much.

The 20%

Nutrient timing. Total calories count, both for fat loss and muscle gain, when you have these calories over the course of a day is largely irrelevant, though you may find for training and/or sports you need to be a bit smarter on training/ game days.

Supplements. There are no supplements that alter your body composition to any great degree, they might have a positive benefit when you don’t have a balanced and varied diet. A good omega 3 fish oil, vitamin D if you live in Scotland where the sun is rare (though this year we’ve been lucky!), will probably be enough.

No, raspberry ketones won’t make you skinny.

Advanced diet techniques such as intermittent fasting, carb back loading, and the rest may give you some small benefit if and only if you are doing the rest of the nutrition principles consistently, but they are just another way of regulating total calories and macronutrients towards a specific goal. the sprinkles on the icing on the cake, if you will.


Work on compound movements to your particular training level, squat and deadlift variations give the biggest bang for their buck. These exercises involve more muscles and are generally just more bad ass.

Focus on getting stronger. Nobody got worse off by getting stronger. Stronger muscles lead to stronger connective tissues and stronger bones. These all can have the effect of making you more physically resilient and improving quality of life by making daily tasks easier.


Use as much rest time as you need, but as little as you can. Too little rest and you can’t perform the next set as well as you could, too much rest and you lose the potential benefits.

Do twice as many pulling movements as pushing movements.

Add loaded carries to your training. what is missing from  most people training. Grip strength, shoulder and hip stability, abdominal strength and conditioning all in one place

Your program will work well for about 4-5 weeks, then change it enough to keep it fresh but not so much you can’t gauge progress.

Pain and suffering isn’t a good gauge of how good the session is. It’s easy to make yourself sore, not so easy to stimulate an improvement.

Aim for great technique as much as you can.

The 20%

Loading patterns. For the most part, a straight forward linear progression is good enough. Just add weight to the bar regularly and most of us will do just fine. As you get more advanced (3+ years training) something more detailed may be necessary, Jim Wendlers 5,3,1 is a tremendous program, for example, but there are plenty options out there to fit your goals and ability.


Food is your friend when it comes to recovery. Adequate calories are needed to refuel (carbs) and provide the nutrients (protein, fat, vitamins, minerals) to repair and grow new tissue.

Sleep is important too, getting enough sleep allows your body time to repair and helps you make better decisions about food since you aren’t reaching for crappy options in a zombie like state.

A good sports massage every 4-6 weeks will keep you fresh and work out any persistent knots. This is one I need to do more often!

Foam rolling can be useful to work out any problem areas if you can’t get a good massage regularly.

3 rules for rolling:

  1. Go slowly to allow the muscle to relax
  2. Enough pressure on a trigger point (the ouchie bit) to get a release but stay below 6 or 7 out of 10 on your pain scale
  3. If the body part you are rolling doesn’t hurt, move on to the next

Walking is another great, low level recovery method most of us don’t use enough. Not only does it give you a low level aerobic workout (keep it low level though!) but it can also keep your back, hips and knees healthy according to research from Prof Stuart McGill, the leading spinal health expert.

There is no 20% here, because really anything you can do to promote recovery and repair is gonna be a good thing. as long as you train too!

Stay strong and healthy,


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